Sunday, September 28, 2008

Matilde of Canossa a/k/a Matilda of Tuscany

This image shows Matilde of Canossa (a/k/a Matilda of Tuscany), sometime during her life (1046-1115 CE) and some high bishop mucky-muck in the Roman Catholic Church sitting his bad old butt on the back of a dog. What a jerk!

The caption on this image says "Enrico IV invoca l’abate di Cluny e Matilde perché intervengano in suo favore presso Gregorio VII a Canossa. Città del Vaticano, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana."

 There were many very powerful women throughout history, and the late Middle Ages were no exception. Marilyn Yalom wrote about many of them in her informative and entertain book "The Birth of the Chess Queen." It's not explicitly stated in the article, but I presume (given the title below), that this is a precise of a new exhibit being shown at the Casa Del Mantegna in Mantua, Italy.

 From on September 21, 2008

  Matilde of Canossa: The Papacy and the Empire Opened at Casa del Mantegna MANTUA.- The two universal powers dominating Europe in the Middle Ages, the Empire and the Papacy, the bishops, the cities, the nobles, the peasants...

 An insight into the society of the first two centuries after the year 1000 has been provided casting new light on the life of Matilda of Canossa, “la comitissa” or “the Great Countess” who kept control of the key territories between Rome and the Alps, including those at the heart of the Padan plain crossed by the Po River and the lands along the Apennines.

 The strength and loneliness of this outstanding yet emblematic woman of this era may be the starting point for a line of reasoning leading to the discovery of a world of deep transformation through a suggestive visual narration unfolding into gemmed crosses, seals, tapestries, ivories, jewels, sculptures, altars, swords and tools from the Italian and European museums. Through a display of archaeological finds which have never been shown before, paintings depicting scenes of the world and, not least, agricultural tools, this exhibition provides a picture of the landscape and living environment in the eleventh and twelfth century, also revealing the remains of the Roman roads, the route along the Po River and its affluents providing a network of navigable waterways, and the mountain passes of the Alps and Apennines.

 Matilda of Canossa, an outstanding figure under many respects, albeit profoundly linked to her world — has been one of the more influential women of her age. She was the sole heiress of a great feudal dynasty and made crucial political decisions which contributed to signalling the end of an epoch and led to the rise of communal life, urban cities and individual freedom. The years running from Matilda’s birth in Mantua, possibly in 1046, to her death, in 1115, were marked by a ferment of revolutionary ideas underpinning the Church’s reforms, the struggle over investitures and the dispute between the Papacy and the Empire.

The blood relationship with the Imperial family, the marriage relationships with the Dukes of Lorraine and the House of Welf, the alliance with Pope Gregory VII, the contacts with the Abbot Hugh of Cluny and with Anselm, Bishop of Lucca, were the key factors making Matilda and her “court” the linchpin of military disputes, mediations, strategies and even episodes having a great symbolic impact, such as Henry IV’s penitence that moved the Pope to grant him absolution at the Castle of Canossa, in January 1077. In Matilda’s life, her personal vicissitudes, the two unhappy marriages and the death of her baby daughter intertwined with succession and political decisions.

By virtue of the unconditional support to the Papacy she is remembered, lonely and powerful, as a heroine of the Church of Rome deserving to be buried in St. Peter’s Basilica (after the transfer of her remains from the Polirone abbey church, where she decided to be buried). Yet, due to such backing, she became an easy target for calumny and allegations on her private life. However, an ambivalent myth was born and, growing through fascinating legends, celebrations and smear, it survived until this day.
Hmmmm, sounds like I need to read up on this woman. You can find more information on the exhibit (there are three parts to it) and Matilda here.

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